Today, we have access to more data resources than any other time in history. In fact, more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. But data is just information. They are simply facts. It’s only when data sets are combined, compared, and analyzed that they provide insight and guidance. 

That was the impetus for the launch of the new West Michigan Regional Dashboard, an online tool that will track the region’s progress on critical economic, environmental, and social indicators. The goal of the dashboard is to inform, educate, and focus regional strategies to increase West Michigan’s overall health and prosperity. 

Until recently, West Michigan lacked a common set of measurements by which to analyze its overall progress. Although several organizations collect, track, and share valuable data within the region, that data was not combined and presented as one common set of shared information on the entire region. 

The project was modeled after similar work already begun in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota through the Greater MSP Regional Partnership. In their work, Greater MSP found that by aligning efforts around coming indicators and impacts, outcomes might be achieved quicker and more efficiently. 

Building on the work of Greater MSP as a base, The Right Place proposed the idea of building a similar dashboard to The West Michigan Regional Prosperity Alliance in 2015. The West Michigan Prosperity Alliance is a 13-county partnership, supported by the State of Michigan, to enhance cooperation and collaboration of workforce, infrastructure and economic development efforts. Members of the regional prosperity alliance unanimously supported the proposal and provided the funding to build and launch the dashboard project.

LEVERAGING REGIONAL EXPERTS

In the months that followed, The Right Place assembled and led a nine-member advisory committee of regional organizations dedicated to the data gathering a development of the dashboard. Members of the committee include:

  • Barry County Community Foundation
  •  Grand Valley State University                                 
  •  Lakeshore Advantage
  •  Michigan Works! West-Central 
  •  Sustainable Partners LLC
  •  TALENT 2025
  •  The Right Place, Inc.
  •  W.E. Upjohn Institute
  •  West Michigan Works!     

Although the committee organizations were responsible for identifying and selecting final data and indicators, members do not “take ownership” of resulting indicators or set strategies to improve the reported indicators. Instead, the main objective of the advisory committee was to narrow all of the possible indicators to between 30-40. The advisory committee reviewed nearly 100 different indicators gathered from other regional dashboards before determining the final set.

Figure 1

One of the major evaluation factors the advisory committee took into account was to identify indicators that are actionable and have an impact on the prosperity of the West Michigan region. After much discussion and input, the advisory committee was able to agree upon 34 indicators to be included in the Regional Dashboard. There are 16 economic, 11 social, and 7 environmental indicators. 

Another guiding factor in the selection of final indicators was to identify information that can be gathered and displayed on the county by county level. By providing this level of geography, the dashboard data will be able to be displayed on the regional level as well as at a county level.

FOCUSING ON THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE

The final 34 indicators (16 economic, 11 social, and 7 environmental) are aligned based on the triple bottom line framework of people (social), planet (environmental), and profit (economic). By focusing on a wider, more comprehensive set of indicators, the dashboard is able to provide a more holistic view of the region’s health, wealth, and prosperity. 

Each of these areas play a vital role in the long-term growth of the West Michigan region. The three areas of the triple bottom line also ensure a balanced dashboard. For example, focusing solely on economic growth without attention to environmental and social factors has the potential to create a region of wealth that lacks quality of life and a safe environment.

HOW THE DASHBOARD WORKS

The West Michigan Regional Dashboard takes a vast amount of data from multiple sources and integrates it into one easily-explored tool, available at wmdashboard.org. Users can either gain a brief overview of how the region is performing in the 34 indicators, or they can take a deep dive into specific indicators for a more detailed analysis (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). 

Figure 2

Those interested in a cursory review of the region’s performance will find the information they need on the dashboard landing page. The page displays the 13-country region’s current performance and historical trends in each of the 34 indicators. Color-coded icons show if the region is trending better, worse, or remaining stable year-over-year with the use of green, red, and yellow icons, respectively. By hovering over an indicator, users can view its historical data and percentage change in performance.

Users interested in a more detailed analysis, like how their specific county performs against regional, state, and national averages, will find this information by clicking on individual indicators. This action will open an analysis page for each indicator, which includes a description of its importance, interactive historical performance charts, and county-level data (see Figure 3). There is also an option to download this information into a customized PDF. 

Figure 3

There are a couple other helpful tips for using the dashboard. First, make sure to use the navigation within the dashboard, versus the forward and back buttons of the internet browser. Second, always access the dashboard on a laptop or desktop monitor, as the dashboard is not mobile friendly.

ALREADY RECEIVING ACCLAIM

The West Michigan Regional Dashboard is already catching the attention of those outside the region and the state of Michigan. In June, The Right Place received a national research award from The Council for Community and Economic Research, for its work in leading the development and
launch of the dashboard.

NEXT STEPS

As part of the agreement with the West Michigan Regional Prosperity Alliance, The Right Place is committed to maintaining the dashboard and associated data for the next five years. Over that time, the Right Place will continue to track changes in individual indicators to report upward or
downward trends.